Last night, after seeing his wonderful show in the Philly Fringe, I went out for a drink with my friend Ben along with the rest of the cast and crew.
"What's going on?" he asked me. "I feel like most of our conversations these days are through Twitter."
"Most of my conversations in general are through Twitter," I joked.
He laughed. "I think that might say something about you you don't want to be said."
"Twitter completely opened up my theater world," I said to him without hesitation, embarrassment, or hyperbole. My friend Sarah, who was sitting with us, thought about it for a second. "It's true," she said. "It kind of did."
Ben is not the only person to have given me a hard time about using Twitter. It seems like the (first) world is divided pretty squarely into people who are really into Twitter and people who are really not into Twitter. "Ugh," my sisters scoffed when I went home for Christmas last December after I signed on to check my feed. "I CANNOT BELIEVE you are on TWITTER."
"It's for networking purposes ONLY!" I defended.
Although I've gotten increasingly more social in tone over the past year, my Twitter account was and remains specifically a tool to broaden and deepen my community as a theater artist. It's worked surprisingly, spectacularly well. Go ahead, challenge me on it. I will sing my love of Twitter to the rafters every. damn. time.
It's a bit reductive to say, "it's not what you know, it's who you know" about making theater in New York, but you learn pretty quickly that it's damn near impossible to do without a strong and supportive network of people whom you can draw on for resources. Finding actors, designers and technicians, getting connected to rehearsal and performance space, borrowing props and costumes, securing financial support, simply seeking experience and advice, finding a person or company to produce your project, or evening finding the project ITSELF - none of this can get done without a group of people who like you or your work and are invested in your success.
Five years ago, as a cripplingly shy girl who found it difficult just to tell a stranger I enjoyed their show without my heart sort of leaping into my throat, building such a community was difficult. I sucked it up, bit the bullet, pressed on and eventually got a lot more adept at socializing with strangers, but networking has never been my strong suit. I've always been looking for new ways to make connections, get involved, and my foray into the theatrical interwebs started as just that - another idea.
"I've been thinking about starting a blog," I said to a friend off-handedly. "I think it might, you know, widen my community. I'm thinking it would be a good way to talk to people I wouldn't normally meet. And I write a lot better than I speak. I'm way more articulate." Plus, I had been moderately aware of the community since the marketing director at Women's Project had asked during me my internship to compile a list of New York theater bloggers for a "grassroots campaign." I knew for a fact that there were a lot of interesting playwrights and producers writing worth reading and talking to. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized it was a really, really good idea.
So I did it. Right away, I started feeling the benefits. I found I really loved learning about arts, culture, politics and current events through the lenses of people who worked and thought and created like me. I found dozens of exciting and engaging blogs like Parabasis, CultureFuture, On Theater and Politics, Jamespeak, and of course, 2AM Theatre. I also found that it kept me thoughtful and engaged and gave me a sense of creative purpose to write on a regular basis.
Except nobody was really reading my blog, except my dad, who to this day I believe remains its biggest fan. I emailed a friend of mine who had a very successful blog and asked her how to get people to read it. She emailed me a pretty awesome list of things to do (which, with her permission, maybe I'll post if anybody's interested?) the most salient of which seemed to be Join Twitter.
I resisted. I did not DO Twitter, I did not UNDERSTAND Twitter, I did not LIKE Twitter. But saw her reasoning and opened an account. It took me a long, long time to figure it out. I remember messaging a friend of mine who was already an avid Twitter-user in extreme frustration, "Can you PLEASE explain to me how a hashtag works???"
I remember I agonized about my first tweet. What the hell was I supposed to say? What did I have to say that was important enough or interesting enough to "tweet" it?
I later realized that the answer to that question is nothing, which is at once the beauty and the terror of the 140-character limit. Every once in a while, something really profound or worthwhile can emerge, but generally speaking, there is very little one can say in 140 characters that is of any substance whatsoever, or that makes any sense on its own, as an isolated piece of information. The result, on the negative side, is that Twitter becomes a dumping ground for all manner of inanity that would best remain unsaid.
The cool part of it, though, is that it creates this culture, this environment of not having to think too hard about what you have to say, and all of these random ideas, responses, jokes, and revelations all get released into this big communal cloud of stream-of-consciousness. The worth lies not in the singular but in the collective. It's not about any one specific person, or one specific tweet, it's about easy, dynamic exchange of thoughts as they appear and are shared publicly. It becomes about the conversation.
I became immediately obsessed and in love with that conversation. I followed my favorite blog, 2amt, to the concurrent dialogue on Twitter, even though I had absolutely no clue what a hashtag conversation meant. The idea of an engaging and supportive community conducted digitally across time and space has never been so fully realized as it has been by 2amt. I was welcomed with open virtual arms for the simple and undiscriminating reason that I was smart enough to learn to type the characters #2amt before I pressed the button that said "Tweet."
Through 2amt I met more and more people, and my virtual community began to both expand and deepen. The experience made me realize that there was a whole facet of this whole "networking" thing that I hadn't understood and had been sorely missing these five years that I've spent in New York: a network that is not just a source of knowledge and support, but a source inspiration. A group of people whose ideas excite you, and whose questions challenge you. A group that gets you constantly thinking about the work that you really want to do, because you're constantly seeing and hearing about the kind of work that you really want to do. It's not enough, I realized, to have a support base of people who want you to do your work, you need to have a support base who make you want to do your work. These people, these challenging, engaging, inspiring people, I found on Twitter, of all places.